Thursday, June 28, 2007

To Act or Not to Act

The Conscious Earth blog had a wonderful post today with a must see video To Act or Not to Act. Share with your friends (and your enemies).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Fuel efficiency ain't so hard

As most people paying any attention to the news know, the Senate yesterday (June 21, 2007) passed legislation that would require "car increase the average mileage of new cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, compared with roughly 25 miles per gallon today." That is, of course, if the House will agree to this.

Car manufacturers act as if it is going to take some kind of miraculous technological break through to achieve this kind of gasoline efficiency. Hogwash. I drive a car, that I bought brand new in 1999, that currently (and has always) gotten 50 miles to the gallon, day in and day out. On some long trips I get 55 miles to the gallon. What kind of miracle car is this? It's a Chevy (formerly Geo) Metro, a 3 cylander, 5 speed, manual transmission hatch back, that cost me only $8,000. Eight years later, the car has 102,000+ miles on it, and other than regular oil changes has only needed, 4 new tires, 1 new battery, and 1 new muffler. At the very height of the gas prices (late May/early June) I was putting just over $20 in my tank at approximately 2 week intervals. Imagine that, my monthly cost for gasoline was about $45 at the peak of the gas prices. We're talking high reliability, low maintenance, low cost transportation here.

This is no fancy, expensive hybrid. Hybrids generally get less gas mileage than my all gasoline combustion engine Metro, and hybrids wouldn't do me any good anyway, because less than 5 percent of my driving is "city" or "stop and go" driving, since I live, work and shop in a rural/non-metro area. There are exactly 3 stop signs and 2 traffic lights in the 13 miles between my home and work so when would the hybrid "recharge"?

Since this high gas mileage technology is obviously well understood (my car is after all 8 years old), and not at all expensive (the car cost me $8,000), why is there so much resistence by manufacturers and dealers to increasing energy efficiency of cars and light trucks? The simple answer is profit.

Lighter, simpler, more fuel efficient cars are cheaper to make, and cheaper to sell. And therefore bring in less profit. The math is simple.

Dealers profit margins on each automobile sold are between 10 and 20 percent of the selling price (profit margins differ primarily because buyers have different degrees of sophistication in negotiating). Let's imagine a Chevrolet dealership with 10 customers purchase vehicles in a week. Chevy vehicles range from $11,300 for the lowest priced Chevy Aveo (similar in many ways to my Metro, but not a fuel efficient at 37 mpg highway and 27 mpg city) through $24,900 for a Chevy Impala (a mid-sized, mid-range car that gets 29 mpg highway and 20 mpg city), maxing out at $35,200 for the Chevy Tahoe (SUV for which Motor Trend doesn't even have fuel efficiency information). If this dealership sells 10 vehicles that average $11,300 dollars, they gross $113,000 and at 10% profit make $11,300 in profit for that week. If the same dealership sells 10 vehicles that average $24,900 the gross $249,000 and at 10% profit make $24,900 in profit for that week. If they manage to instead sell, 10 suv's at $35,200, then they gross $352,000 and with 10% profit make $35,200 in that week. It takes the same basic overhead costs of lot, building and materials and staff to sell 10 fuel efficient Aveos as it does to sell 10 fuel inefficient Tahoe's, but you make three times as much money in the same time, with the same effort.

Why do consumers accept this? Because they are bombarded on all sides by advertising that tells them that they have to have more POWER. Only wimps drive fuel efficient vehicles. If your business or livelihood requires you haul live stock or horse trailers behind a truck, or carry payloads of brick or lumber, sand or gravel on a regular basis, then I do not begrudge you the power necessarily to do that. If you have six children, and have to get them back and forth to school in a van than by all means, go to it. But I see so many people driving back and forth to work and the grocery store in huge trucks and SUV's that never carry a payload larger than a weeks worth of groceries in the back. In eight years there have been only two occasions where I needed to haul more than my little Metro could handle and for $50 each time, I could get the Lowe's store to deliver directly to my door.

Folks moan about how small cars aren't as safe as trucks and SUV's. Well, then they should learn to be better drivers. You pay attention, you stay sober, you don't talk on the cell phone will you drive, you drive at or below the speed limit and don't try to pass every car on the road, you don't drive when you are sleepy, and you drive defensively and intelligently, you too can have 40 years of driving small fuel efficient vehicles with not a single accident.

And that's my self-righteous rant for the day!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dancing with Devastation

Talk of bombing Iran is nothing new, so the horror and dismay that I feel when the topic is broached is also nothing new. Yet for some reason today's New York Times piece on the debate over Iran strategy for some reason seemed more chilling and foreboding than usual.

It should not need to be said, but sometimes people come to bizarre conclusions, but I do not want Iran to have nuclear weapons. Hell, I don't want the U.S. to have nuclear weapons, and never have. I did "Ban the Bomb" protests as a child in the early 1960's, and attended peace oriented anti-nuclear summer camp (run by the Methodist Church!) in 1968, and was a member of anti-nuclear organizations in the 1980's. That said, I'd rather accept Iran as a nuclear power than ever see the U.S. engage in preemptive military action against Iran (or any other country).

Assuming that the reports are accurate, there are still members of the Bush admininstration (the article suggests primarily in Vice President Cheney's office) that are "are pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities."

This leaves me sitting here thinking -- with everything we know about Iran, with all our history with Iran in the past nearly 30 years -- what might happen if the U.S. flew in bombers and reduced all their nuclear facilities to rubble?

Iran has a population of 65+ million people, more than twice that of Iraq. Iran has a standing army of more than 350,000 soldiers, and is well equipped to fight desert warfare. At least 80 percent of Iran's militiary forces are deployed on the Iran/Iraq border. In position where they could sweep into Iraq where the U.S. currently has 160,000 troops, the result of the "surge" which has severely stretched U.S. combat combat capacity. And all of those 160,000 have their hands full with the insurgency and incipient civil war in Iraq. Moreover, it would not be too much of a stretch to imagine that Iran might be able to mobilize others in the region (say Syria) who would be outraged by U.S. military action against Iraq.

And then there is the affect an attack on Iran would have on world wide terrorism. You think terrorists are motivated with hate for the U.S. now? Just wait and see what would happen after a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities!

One thing in today's New York Times article, really jarred me:
When the North Koreans threw out international inspectors on the last day of that year and soon declared that they planned to reprocess 8,000 rods of spent fuel into weapons-grade plutonium, President Bush had to decide whether to declare that if North Korea moved toward weapons, it could face a military strike on its facilities.

The Pentagon had drawn up an extensive plan for taking out those facilities, though with little enthusiasm, because it feared it could not control North Korea’s response,, and the administration chose not to delivery any ultimatum. [Emphasis added].
What on God's green earth makes anyone in the administration (or any where else) think they could "control" Iran's response? They certain haven't been able to "control" things in Iraq yet!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Word Police Have Run Amok

Time magazine on-line ran an article yesterday about efforts by the McDonald's corporation to get the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to redefine the word "McJob". According to the Time article
In 2001, the term finally entered the Oxford English Dictionary, which defined it as "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by the expansion of the service sector." And it has remained there ever since. But not for much longer if McDonald's gets its way.

The company is leading a "word battle" on behalf of the wider service sector. The object, according to David Fairhurst, a senior vice-president of McDonald's, is to change the definition of McJob to "reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding ... and offers skills that last a lifetime."
McDonald's reasoning? "[T]that the OED's definition was 'outdated' and 'insulting.'"

This gives me a wonderful idea. Having been called a "bitch" (to my face at least once) by students, I should lobby the OED (on behalf of bitches everywhere) to change the definition of "bitch" which is currently "malicious or treacherous woman;" to something more like "a woman with keen intellect and low tolerance for idiots and fools." Unfortunately I fear I don't have the financial resources of McDonald's to mount the lobbying campaign. The current definition is certainly "insulting" and probably outdated.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Does it matter what you believe?

I was wandering through the blogosphere...

It always amazes me how one thing can lead to another. I began with a science article in the New York Times, which lead to a great science blog called denialism blog. Specifically to an entry on how to be an effective "crank", which after reading, I understand "crank" means science crackpot with a following! This futher lead me to the blog of an "IDer" which I learned by clicking refers to one who believes in "intelligent design" -- of the universe, not of human societies which would be a much sillier claim.

That ultimately gets me to the comment by a reader of this "Intelligent Design" blog called Uncommon Descent. The reader, after discussing various points made by the young earth advocates (believers in creation 6,000 years ago) versus the old earth advocates (intelligent design believers in creation over billions of years) declared:
"And so I persist in my tendency to accept a young Earth with great caution… fortunately for all of us, in the end it probably doesn’t matter much except that we would all like to know."
And at this point my reading came to a grinding halt, and I had to do some responding! Because it does matter, very much.

What people believe or are willing to learn about the origins of our planet and ourselves has huge consequences for the choices that we make in the present, and the future of all of us.

Young earth creationists not only believe that the earth was created in 6 days, 6,000 years ago, but also believe that resources like oil were created that way, and therefore can either be recreated humans in minutes through simple chemical processses or by nature within days or months, or simply by God by fiat, since that was how it was created in the first place from this viewpoint. The logical consequence of these beliefs?

That is it sinful to conserve oil (or any other natural resources) because attempts to conserve are an expression of doubt in God's power. So, yeah, what you believe about the origins of the universe, earth and man DO matter.